Temple Jeremiah

 

Shabbat Behar

Dear Friends,

We at Temple Jeremiah are doing a tremendous job of fulfilling the obligation of “Tzedakah begins with those who are closest to us.” We learn about this as one of the commandments God gives to Moses for the Jewish people from atop Mount Sinai in this week’s Torah portion, Behar, which literally means, “on the mountain.” I am continually moved to see the large amount of intergenerational participation in so many of the volunteer opportunities we provide, such as Feed the Hungry, Backpack Blessings, and Family Promise. We are certainly doing our part to fulfill taking care of those closest to us, as opposed to adopting a more universalist way of Tzedakah, which can sometimes result in frustration, burnout, and often, giving up. I have seen that taking a more universalist approach with Israeli politics results in much division, anger, resentment, and misinformation being passed around. Sadly, and more often than not, this results in divisions amongst all of us who, theoretically, are on the same side, not only as the Jewish people, but also as one human family.

What if we were to adopt this idea of “Charity begins at home” by focusing our work in Israel action closer to home? We can do this by helping to strengthen the Reform movement, both financially, ideologically, and visibly. In order to become an ordained Cantor or Rabbi, one must live in Israel for an entire year. I spent 2010 and 2011 living in Jerusalem and volunteering in Haifa. While it was a very challenging year for me, and I must admit, I entered that year very begrudgingly, in the end, that year shaped my Cantorate more than any other experience I had in school. Why? Because I experienced first-hand how difficult it is to be a Reform Jew in our very own country. I had countless conversations (in Hebrew) with cab drivers who had no idea that a non-Orthodox, secular (chiloni) person could pray at a synagogue, let alone that a WOMAN could actually participate and even be a leader. I witnessed classmates getting kicked out of their homes when landlords found out that they were studying at the Reform Yeshiva. My friends and I got kicked out of a restaurant for wearing kippot (because we were women).

But the rewards were also endless. I got to serve a Reform congregation as their volunteer Cantor. With that came many amazing experiences, including conducting a seder at a battered women’s shelter, putting together a fundraiser for the synagogue’s B’nai Mitzvah program, officiating for a B’not Mitzvah for the first time ever for seven Israeli women who never dreamed it so.

The lack of awareness of Israeli progressive congregations amongst both Israelis and Americans can be very disheartening. However, Rabbi Na’mah Kelman, the Dean of the Hebrew Union College in Jerusalem, says that it is slowly but surely increasing. She reports that the number of Jews who self-identify as Reform has increased to 8 percent, a significant increase from 1 percent, which it was back when I was living there in 2011. More and more Progressive American Synagogues (both Conservative and Reform) synagogues are “twinning” and becoming “sister congregations” with Israeli Reform and Conservative congregations, which helps them sustain costs, create innovative programming, and even be the congregations called upon for American families who want to have B’nai Mitzvah in Israel.

We are doing a tremendous job of instilling the importance of “Charity begins at Home” in the minds of our children through programs like the ones here at temple. Behar commands us to give shemita, or to rest to the land for a year every seven years. What if we were to make our shemita a shifting of the way in which we do religious action? Let us shift from our current Israeli action, which often focuses on issues and organizations that can divide us, and instead commit our energy and resources towards strengthening our very own Reform/Progressive movement in Israel by building awareness, bridges, and strong ties, and twinning with these progressive congregations. The Rambam (also known as Maimonides) interprets the shemita year as God saying, “I wish to redeem My land from the hands of those who hold it, as I have not given it to them as part of their possession.” We have been given as part of our possession, the Progressive movement of Judaism. I believe that putting our energies there, and giving charity at that home, will give us that kind of peace we are always looking for, are called to strive for, and will help us greater fulfill this mitzvah.

This December, as part of our Scholar in Residence Program (December 6-8, 2019), you will have the opportunity to learn firsthand about the Israeli Reform Movement with Cantor Evan Cohen, from our sister congregation, Kehilat Har-El, in Jerusalem. Cantor Cohen will be leading us in Adult Education, discussion, and musical offerings unique to his Israeli Reform Congregation in Israel. I do hope you will plan to join us. It’s my prayer that we will look “behar,” from atop the Holy Mountain of our lives, and find peace in working together to strengthen these ties.

Cantor Susan Lewis Friedman

About Cantor Susan Lewis Friedman

Cantor Susan Lewis Friedman is thrilled to be the cantor at Temple Jeremiah. She moved to the area from the New York/New Jersey area in 2015 after beginning her tenure at Beth Emet in July of 2015, just after receiving Cantorial Ordination from The Debbie Friedman School of Sacred Music of the Hebrew Union College Jewish Institute of Religion. Previously, she served as cantor at Beth Emet the Free Synagogue in Evanston, IL where, in addition to the many life cycles and other duties of the cantor, she directed the Adult Choir, created and directed a Teen A Capella Choir, Jr. Choir, and Intergenerational Band. Cantor Friedman strives to help all members of the community find their Jewish voice and she regularly invites anyone who is interested to sing with her during Shabbat and High Holy Days services. Cantor Friedman has a wide range of musical styles, and feels at home in almost every style of Jewish music, such as playing her guitar in a small setting where everyone is participating with her, or singing a piece of Chazzanut or liturgical music for a large congregation. Her belief is that nearly all Jewish music has its place in our synagogue, and when done prayerfully and with great intention, can inspire us to hear God’s voice, and can often help us to find prayer within our souls that words alone cannot arouse. Cantor Friedman holds degrees of Bachelor of Music from Illinois State University, Master of Music from Arizona State University, and Master of Sacred Music from the Hebrew Union College. During her time as a student she served as Cantorial Intern at Congregation B’nai Jeshurun in Short Hills, NJ. There, she founded and directed their 40 member Junior Choir, Keshet, and also served as the cantor of the Barrie H. Greene Early Childhood Center. During her tenure at Jeshurun, she created and implemented the synagogue’s first ever Yom Kippur Family Service for which over 600 families were in attendance. It has since been a staple of their High Holy Days services. Cantor Friedman is a regular soloist with the Kol Zimrah Community Choir right here on the North Shore. She is an active member of the American Conference of Cantors and was asked to be on the leadership committee for the 2018 convention as Co-Chair for all of the Tefilot (Prayer Services) for the convention. She is an active member of the Reform Cantors Chicago, and is frequently invited to collaborate in Cantorial Concerts with colleagues throughout both Chicagoland and all over the U.S at places such as Temple Emanu-El Dallas, Temple Judea in Palm Beach Gardens, and Anshe Emet Synagogue with Hazzan Alberto Mizrahi. One of Cantor Friedman’s biggest passions is helping to sustain and foster the Reform Movement in Israel. From 2010-2011 Susie lived in Israel for the first year of school and volunteered at Congregation Ohel Avraham, part of the Leo Baeck Center in Haifa, where she served as volunteer cantor. She formed strong relationships with Rabbi Gabby Dagan, and the congregants who quickly became her Israeli family, and she decided to become a bat mitzvah with them. Six months later, Susie co-officiated a b’not mitzvah for seven Israeli women, all of whom celebrated with Susie at her ceremony and grew up never knowing that a bat mitzvah existed—only bar mitzvah. That year, Susie also conceived, directed, accompanied, and performed in Broadway on the Carmel, a concert to raise money for families who could not afford to have b’nai mitzvah for their children. While in Israel, she was nominated by her piers and received the Rabbi Jason Huebsch Memorial Prize for all of her work with Ohel Avraham. Prior to becoming a cantor, Susie appeared in the Broadway National Tour of CATS playing the roles of Jennyanydots and Grizabella. She also performed in regional opera, theater, concert, and as a pianist/singer/entertainer in clubs throughout NYC, hosting her own weekly open mic show at The Duplex. She has had the great fortune to perform with Betty Buckley, George S. Irving, and Alberto Mizrahi, and is frequently sought out to sing in various cantorial concerts throughout the U.S. She is a proud member of the American Conference of Cantors, the Reform Cantors of Chicago, and Actors Equity Association. Her love of children and strong desire to inspire b’nai mitzvah students to remain engaged in Jewish life inspired her to be a cantor. It is Susie’s goal that every student who walks through the doors of the synagogue will grow up to become vibrant, participating members of congregations. She is married to the love of her life, Ross Friedman. Her absolute greatest achievements are their daughter, Abigail Hannah Friedman, who was born on May 6, 2013, and their son, Zev Noah Friedman, who was born on Nov. 5, 2014. They are both living examples of her answered prayers.
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